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Cú Chulainn–Ultimate Irish Hero?

After reading several sources about the fabled warrior Cú Chulainn, I need to ask–was he really the quintessential Gaelic hero? Or was he, as Irish playwright Samuel Beckett famously described him, “the . . . patron saint of pure ignorance and crass violence”?

First, let’s get his tongue-twisting name straightened out. In the Irish Gaelic tongue, his name (a bit simplified) would be roughly   coo HOO lun   where the “ch” sound is similar to the Germanic “ch” sound, as in ach.

Every age, every culture needs its larger-than-life heroes. If  Cú Chulainn did not exist, he would have to be invented to fill a human need. Just so, the filí--the bards–of ancient Ireland needed to sing the exploits of a young man who was beloved of women, admired by warriors, respected by enemies, and indomitable in battle. In short, he was a man who represented all that the beautiful, wild land of Éire was to its people.                                                         

Legends about Cú Chulainn abound from about the end of the iron age, just about the time when Caesar was riding roughshod over Celtic territory. Perhaps there is a link between the hero and the conquerer here, but history is silent. Because Caesar’s exploits took place in Gaul, and our warrior  was centered in Ireland, there may be no more connection than a universal knowledge of the hero Achilles in the ancient Homeric epic, or that deep-seated need for a people to extol a national hero.

Cú Chulainn was not born with that name. Legend has it that he was the son of a god and a mortal woman. He was named Sétanta, roughly  sha DAN tuh  in Gaelic.

Although still a stripling, his aspect was so striking and his talents so amazing that he was pressured into seeking a wife. His fancy was for beautiful Emer–but she taunted him with the fact that he was still a boy and sent him off to learn to be a warrior.

So learn he did. He studied under a famous female warrior whom he not only bedded, but he sired a son by her daughter! He later married Emer, who became devoted to him. Cú Chulainn was definitely attractive to the ladies. But women would prove to be his undoing.

Again at a tender age, he attended a feast at the home of one named Culann, a sidhe smith who owned a huge wolfhound. As the legends have it, the dog attacked Sétanta, who killed the beast in self-defense. Feeling bad about killing the dog, the hero offered to stay until another guard dog could be trained. From that time onward, he bore the name “Cú” meaning whelp or young dog, and “Chulainn,” a form of Culann–The Hound of Culann.

Even such a warrior as Cú Chulainn would be just another legend if it were not for Queen Maeve and the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley. The mortal warriors of Ulster, true to a curse uttered by the goddess Macha, were rendered impotent for battle when Maeve’s army attacked. So our divine-born hero, unaffected by the curse, took them on single-handedly.

The standard of battle in legends was that one warrior could challenge another on behalf of whole armies. And so Cú Chulainn, greater than any warrior of the time, easily conquered any that Queen Maeve could send. Finally she was forced to make a bargain with him to end the bloodshed.

One of the most enduring aspects of Cú Chulainn was the “battle frenzy” or ríastrad, that seized him while fighting. Similar to the berserker aspect of the later Vikings, many a legend and picture of him shows him in full “warp spasm,” a term coined by the translator Thomas Kinsella.

Cú Chulainn died as violently as he had lived. Having angered the powerful Queen Maeve, he was cursed by her sending against him the deadly triple aspect of Goddesses called the Morrigan. To make a short tale of a brutal and bloody end, he was pierced by his own spears. He dragged himself to a standing stone and lashed himself there in order to remain standing. Most renditions of his death–including a famous statue in the General Post Office of Dublin–show him bound to the stone with a raven perched on his shoulder as a symbol of death. There is even a rock in Co. Louth fabled to be the stone he died upon.

As for my initial question–whether Cú Chulainn is a true hero or a symbol of all that is ignorant and brutal–I shall leave that for others to decide. If he is crass and ignorant, so then are the indomitable heroes of the Iliad, and mighty Beowulf, and for that matter the Biblical David and scores of other heroes who made their bones not by their intellects or moral fiber, but by their mighty deeds.

 

Erin O’Quinn’s romance-adventure novels are set in fifth-century Ireland, when deeds of old would soon give way to the godspels of the New Testament as spread by tonsured priests and the famous bishop Patrick. But those old ways have died hard—if at all!

The books are available as follows:

~The Twilight of Magic series (fantasy for all ages)
http://amzn.to/2C6SI6m  

~The Dawn of Ireland series (M/F fantasy/romance)
http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY

~The Iron Warrior series (M/M romance/adventure)
http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh

Stag Heart (M/M romance/adventure)

  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, #explicit #excerpt)

~and~

Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN  

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O  

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)

 

 

 

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Featured

How St. Patrick Changed Ireland

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A land mysterious, untouched by the hands of the Romans, pre-Patrick Ireland was a study in ancient ways . . . a land of mighty stones, gods, and stalwart warriors.

[Disclaimer: I am far from religious. But Patrick was the muse who began my writing career. Long story. Um, 35+ titles long. 😀 ]

In about 432 AD, Pope Celestine I elevated an unknown priest to bishop and gave him a mission. He sent him as a bearer of the Gospels, or good tidings, to an island steeped in mystery and considered a place of hellish paganism. The man was of Roman heritage, called “Patricius” or “patrician one.” The mysterious place was Ireland.

From what historians and archaeologists have been able to determine, the island that the Romans named “Hibernia” was a world so protected by fierce clan warriors that the emperors chose to stay on the larger island of Britannia and the European mainland. Few remnants of the Italian marauders . . . um, the proud Roman armies . . . are found throughout the island that its inhabitants proudly call Éire.fierce 200

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Why did the Pontiff choose Patrick? It is a matter of historical record that as a youth, Patrick himself had been taken from his home somewhere in Britannia—possibly Wales, or even Scotia—by a band of freebooters or pirates and taken to the island called “Hibernia.” He was about 16 years old, a pious young fisherman whose father and grandfather before him had been priests. Once in Ireland, probably in modern County Antrim, he lived in slavery for six or seven years.

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Once taken, Patrick was sold to a clan chief, supposedly a druidic high priest. Patrick became both his lowly shepherd and possibly even his unwilling acolyte. In those several years, the young man learned the language and the beliefs of the druids—both of which would stand him in good stead much later, when he returned as a missionary.

According to his own published Confessio, Patrick lived among the people and spoke to them every day of the man named Christ. He says that he prayed to God hundreds of times every day, trying to maintain the utmost humility and love, even for his captors.

In  my fantasy novel HIDDEN BY THE ROSE, Patrick recalls his life as a slave. Here he is talking to a young girl whose mother, too, has been taken by slave-holders to Hibernia, and he is trying to  comfort her with his own story of captivity. During the telling, his own voice begins to take on the lilt of the Éireannach people:

st p statue ~2x5“Knowing me end had come, I collapsed to me knees and began to pray. ‘Lord, me Father,’ I whispered, ‘I come to thee with glad heart. If I cannot spread thy word abroad to the heathens, let them hear me now.’ I raised me voice in joy as the wild men gathered ‘round me. ‘Love thy God, thy father, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind.’

“The savages stopped in their tracks. They exchanged looks of wonder at the strange young man on his knees, laughing and smiling at their imminent attack.

“Slowly, they lowered their barbed spears and talked among themselves. I continued me prayer, for I understood not a word of their gentle conversation.

“At last, two of them seized me, one on each arm, and dragged me to the water’s edge. One of the oarsmen reached over the side and hauled me into the currach. Thus I became an unwilling passenger on what turned out to be a slave ship. . . .

“I spent the next few days in ropes, alternately praying and vomiting, while the vagabond slavers made their way back to the Isle of Hibernia.

“I will tell you only that I was able to survive quite well during the seven years of thralldom that followed. Me captors soon sold me to a chieftain named Milchu, whose land lay on the hills of Slemish and down into the valley of the Braid. Milchu was a high priest of the group they call ‘Druids.’

“Thus I learned their strange beliefs, and I also learned their melodious tongue perfectly, and whenever I could, I taught the word of God to anyone who would listen. I spread glad tidings, and I prayed hundreds of times every day, not once failing to thank God for me good fortune.”

Returning to what we know of his life… Patrick finally managed to escape on a boat that was bound for Britannia. After his return, he studied to become a priest somewhere in Gallia (modern France) and served as parish priest somewhere in Britannia before being called to Rome.

He recounts, again in his Confessio, how he was convinced in a dream to return to Éire, for he heard the children calling. Whether or not one believes in miracles, the outcome of this dream is one of the astonishing facts of history. For the lowly priest not only returned to convert the “children,” he lived a long and productive missionary life in Ireland and was beatified some centuries later as Saint Patrick.

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The Book of Kells, dating from the 9th century, is a direct result of Patrick’s insistence on re-copying and preserving the scriptures.

If one can differentiate the legends from the facts, it is safe to say that Patrick sent for scores of bishops and other priests to join him in Ireland, and that he insisted the ancient scrolls and scriptures be brought with them, copied and protected. This dedication to ancient learning is what “saved” the world from the dark ages of ignorance after the retreat of the Romans in the fifth century. Thomas Cahill’s best selling book How the Irish Saved Civilization is a great one to read in this context.

There is not a place in Ireland that does not boast of Paddy’s footprints somewhere on its soil. In my later novel WAKENING FIRE, the people of modern Coleraine (Northern Ireland) trace the name of their town to a visit by the latter-day saint. In the words of the narrator/central character Caylith:

The brothers O’Cahan lived some ten miles north of Limavady, near the mouth of the River Bann. . . I gathered it was near a settlement called Cúil Raithin, or Coleraine, once visited by Father Patrick himself. Brion told me how his own grandfather, a chieftain, had offered Patrick a portion of land near the river overgrown with great ropy ferns that had to be burned to the ground each year. After Patrick left, the residents then adopted the name, meaning “ferny backwater” . . .

This was not the first folktale I had heard about Father Patrick in the northern part of this island. I began more and more to realize that Patrick’s influence was beginning to be felt in many places besides Armagh, even if he had never set foot near most of them.

Every place name in Ireland bearing the root word “kell” or “kil” can in a sense be traced to Patrick or his later followers, because it means “church.” And St. Patrick’s day has become a celebration not just of the man, but of Ireland itself.

Patrick has put his stamp so firmly on the Emerald Isle that to think of him is to think of that charmed place, no matter what may be one’s religious denomination.

st p symbols
We are left to guess at what Ireland would be today if an intrepid priest named Patrick (“patrician one”) had not set his sights on converting the inhabitants to Christianity. But it hardly matters. Once Patrick entered Ireland, the charismatic bishop set about changing the entire religious life and world view of the people. Here, in an ingenious portrait of the saint by Hamish Burgess, we see the various symbols associated with St. Patrick: the tri-partite shamrock, the banished snakes, the gentle deer. The fanciful halo shows a kind of crown of thorns, possibly the paschal fire he set in defiance of High King Leary in 433 AD. Note that this image shows Patrick’s hair as it probably was worn—in a tonsure.

 

Books noted here:

Hidden by the Rose:

HBTR zon logo

This fantasy tale centers on the magical-real journey of a young girl.

Caylith—sixteen, self-centered and spoiled—returns from a trip to find her ancestral villa destroyed and her mother missing. In a state of shock, she and her best friend Brindl are taken to an unlikely refuge, a land she had thought existed only in fairy-stories.

She meets a fearsome relative and begins to train in the martial arts. Just as important, she begins to shape her own personal magic. Caylith becomes a thorn hidden by the rose, in a sense, for she finds that she has certain powers no one could ever suspect…

Fantasy for all ages (13+). The second in a series tracing the demise of magic in a new world being shaped by powerful forces, in the person of chubby-cheeked St. Patrick and in the improbable guise of Caylith herself.

Book 2 of The Twilight of Magic (following Running Over Rainbows).

The entire series is here: http://amzn.to/2C6SI6m

~oOo~

Wakening Fire:

A tale of tempestuous romance and blazing fervor in the Ireland of St Patrick.

DOI 2 stock logo

WAKENING FIRE tells the story of several fires:

The one that flares between Caylith and Liam, as they find that married life is just the beginning of hot desire…

The burning zeal of imprisoned Owen Sweeney to find the long-held secret of his birth, held only by his mother, now on her deathbed…

The ritual fires of pagan Ireland, set for purification in honor of the mighty god Bel, the symbol of the “Sun of God.”

The smoldering flames of Christianity that Father Patrick is beginning to light across the landscape of Old World Ireland, culminating in the famous Easter fires of 433 AD.

And there is yet another fire quickening, this one a surprise, revealed only at the end of Erin O’Quinn’s smoldering second novel in The Dawn of Ireland trilogy.

MF historicalromance steamy StPatrickAsCharacter

The entire series has its own Kindle page, here: http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY

Also…

Kindle US http://amzn.to/2tubq5d
Kindle UK http://amzn.to/2u4RaZs
Sea to Sky (pdf or epub formats) http://www.seatoskybooks.com/erin-oquinn/5856-wakening-fire/?page=3
Smashwords (epub) http://bit.ly/2tVkXCQ

Other photo credits: Wikipedia.

St. Patrick art:

‘ST.PATRICK’ © Hamish Burgess 2012. Original Celtic and folk art by Hamish Burgess, a piece for the cover of The Celtic Connection newspaper in Vancouver BC and Seattle, the March issue.

 

Featured

How to be an Instant Irishman

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‘Tis not just the lilting, musical tone of Gaelige that charms the ear and wins friends and sweethearts. The Irish have a way of speaking even curses that plays on the soul and begs to be sung.

I’ve gathered some of my own favorite Irish blessings, curses, drinking toasts and folk sayings. I’m sure you have a treasure trove of your own. If so, please add them to the comment section below.

When I could find the Gaelige, I put it next to the English translation. I’ve also added a few common endearments and other everyday expressions.

Cheers and sayings related to drink:                                                                                                           

Health! (Cheers!) Sláinte!

Ireland forever! Eireann go Brach!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!

Thirst is a shameless disease…so here’s to a shameful cure.

‘Tis the first drop that destroys you. There’s no harm at all in the last.

Good as drink is, it ends in thirst.

                        Blessings:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you
In the palm of his hand.

May you live as long as you want,
And never want as long as you live…

May the road rise with you.
Go n-éirí on bóthar leat.

(And my favorite:)
May your feet never sweat.

 

Curses:                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                                                        

Burning and scorching on you.
Dóite agus loisceadh ort.

May you leave without returning.
Imeacht gan teacht ort.

May you fall without rising.
Titim gan eiri ort.

[And, if it’s a particularly cringe-worthy curse:]

The same to you.
Gurab amhlaidh duit.

Kiss my butt!
Póg mo thoin!  pronounced <pohg muh hoin>

Folk Sayings:                                                                                                 

Say little but say it well.
Beagán agus a rá go maith.

May you be across Heaven’s threshold before the Devil knows you’re dead.

He who gets a name for early rising can stay in bed until midday.                                                                   

Man is incomplete until he marries. After that, he is finished.

You can’t kiss an Irish girl unexpectedly. You can only kiss her sooner than she thought you would.

Wisdom is the comb given to a man after he has lost his hair.

God is good, but never dance in a small boat.

The man with the boots does not mind where he places his foot.

The only cure for love is marriage.
Nil aon leigheas ar an ngra ach posadh.

Many a time a man’s mouth broke his nose.
Is minic a bhris beal duine a shron.

 

Other sayings:

I put the following original sayings in the mouth of one if my characters, Ryan Murphy, a character in Storm Maker and The Wakening Fire. Ryan is a kind of home-spun cowboy who always has something to say about the ageless dance of man with woman.

The less said, the longer wed.

A woman’s mouth can be a man’s downfall–or the way to stand him up again.

If ye’d be wealthy, marry a smart woman.

When first ye wed, ye stay in bed.

 

Quotes about the Irish:

[The Irish]  is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever. ~Sigmund Freud                     

I’m troubled, I’m dissatisfied. I’m Irish.  ~Marianne Moore

 

Terms of endearment and everyday sayings:

The equivalent of “Hello” means “God be with you”:
Dia dhuit   < dee-ah dwit> or <dee-ah gheet>

My dear/darling/treasure…
A chuisle mo chroí...  <a quish/leh  muh kree>  Literally means “beat of my heart”

I love you.
Is tú mo ghra.  <ees too muh grah>

In conclusion, may I say

Goodbye… an’ blessings on ye.
Slán agus beannacht leat.

Those who enjoyed these expressions may also enjoy the characters in my novels–ancient Gaelic warriors, cowboys, brehons, druids, tonsured monks, high kings, St. Paddy himself, and many more. I use Gaelic words often, for I love the cadence and the soft blur around the edges of the language.

Note: In order to update this blog, I’ve put a new date…and a whole new look…to the post you just read.

 

 

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“Burning and Scorching”: The Easter Curse of St. Patrick

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For centiuries, great ritual fires were burned during the high festivals of the ancient Celtic world. And then the upstart Patrick lit his own in defiance of tradition . . .

Church historians and hagiographic scholars have claimed that St. Patrick, then a bishop ordained by the pontiff, was the center of a dramatic confrontation on the occasion of the Christian Easter in 433 AD.

The date was May 1, and the site was the Hill of Slaine, ten miles distant from the High King’s domain at Tara.

At that time Patrick had been in Ireland only about a year, but he had been held as a slave for six or seven years when he was much younger. His master Milchu had been a high druid, and historians believe that Patrick must have learned much about the druids and the religious life of the people of Ireland, along with a thorough knowledge of the language and culture.

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Whether white-robed (according to Roman scribes) or not, the druids were a hugely powerful class, second only to kings in ancient Ireland. Who besides Patrick would dare hurl a curse back at them?

The Festival of Beltane, in honor of the sun god Bel, was one of the two most sacred observances in the Celtic world. Huge fires were lit all over the island, signifying (among other beliefs) purification and rebirth through the power of great Bel. One powerful high king when Patrick was in Éire was Leary, a stubborn and devoted pagan, who surrounded himself with scores of druids.

Leary’s purification fires, of course, were to be the highest and most sacred in the country, and Patrick well knew it. According to these historians, Patrick probably spent several months planning a fire that would not only rival Leary’s, but would awe and convert thousands on the occasion of the Christian Easter, which coincided with Beltane.

Patrick was not only stubborn and highly intelligent, he must have been a very courageous soul to flout the power of the highest power in the land.

In my novel WAKENING FIRE, I imagined what happened on that fateful day, May 1, 433 AD; and told it through the eyes of the main female character Caylith. After Patrick set his huge bonfire, King Leary angrily sent for the upstart to be brought before him on the sacred Hill of Tara.

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[Incensed that the meddling priest has lit a high Easter bonfire in defiance of his Beltane ritual fire, High King Leary speaks to the bishop Patrick: ]

“Me druids tell me ye’d usurp the laws of our land. Ye’d defy the ancient Brehon precepts, an’ ye’d replace our gods with yours. How do ye plead on those counts?”

“I plead only to my God,” Patrick said evenly. “I speak to kings, and to common men alike. But I plead only to Christ, that he forgive your ignorance and hold you to his bosom in his mysterious love and compassion.”

I felt warm admiration for Patrick. In all the time I had known him, I had rarely seen even a trace of anger. But now I saw it slowly building in his eyes, and in his very demeanor, in spite of his mild words.green paddy 330

“Then I must bid me guards take ye to confinement.”

“Even as Herod did, would you so dismiss me?”

I saw Leary’s face change then, and a flicker of fear or alarm in his eyes. “If I but believed the lies ye spread about a man who died an’ walked again, then yes. Even as Herod.”

Patrick’s tone changed then, and for the first time he spoke softly, in the fatherly tone so familiar to me. “Thousands of your subjects believe those lies, O King. Would you call them foolish? Misguided? Or do they see something that perhaps you are missing? That Christ is love. Is é grá Chríost. That he asked not for special treatment. That he sought only to teach others about God’s love and forgiveness. That he did indeed die and live again, even as your own god Bel, whom you celebrate as the sun. And so I also celebrate Christ, also the son—the son of God.”

Leary’s voice was almost pleading now. “Then why do ye flout me laws, priest? Why do ye set your own fires to be higher than me own? How does that show love?”

“I must love all men, even as my Lord Christ loved. I cannot show you more love than I show your worthy fair-faced advisor.” And he gazed directly at one of the most ugly men I had ever beheld, a hairy-faced druid whose lower lip seemed to emit a constant stream of dribble. A ripple of laughter drifted through the room.

The druid stepped in front of Patrick then, and he stood on one foot and extended his bony arm, and with the other hand he held one eye shut. “Dóite agus loisceadh ort!

“Burning and scorching on ye,” whispered Liam. I heard the note of awe in his voice. The druid’s high-pitched voice screeched almost as effectively as Talon’s own squawk had echoed in this room several months ago. Even I was mildly impressed.

Then Father Patrick drew himself up to the extent of his slight frame, and his own eyes began to crackle and burn. His tonsured head shone like a ritual fire in the bright light, and his voice rang out as though he were shouting at his enemy from a high rampart.

druid handsup

druid 433

 

When Patrick utters his own curse in answer to the druid, everything changes. What words does he speak that spare him and change the mind of stubborn King Leary?

Guess you’ll just have to read Wakening Fire and the others in this trilogy, “The Dawn of Ireland.”

http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY

DOI tril 3 correx copy

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Chariots and wheelchairs in the Celtic world of O’Quinn

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This fanciful image of “horned” warriors and horses is not true to my Celtic research, which does not show this kind of “Germanic” influence in Ireland; but the chariot itself is what I have in mind for my character.

I began to be intrigued by the idea of Celtic chariots when I expanded one of my “Dawn of Ireland” characters, Owen Sweeney. Owen actually began as a mysterious, villainous man in a book that preceded my Dawn of Ireland novels. His past and his personality are slowly revealed throughout five books (so far).

Quite without my willing it to happen, a man in a wheelchair began to take on immense proportions. Always described as “bigger than life” for his towering intellect and personality, Owen Sweeney MacNeill is actually half a man. He has spent the past twenty years confined to an invalid’s cart, his legs no more than withered sticks.

Owen had a tragic past—from the time he began his anguished search for a father he would never find, to the incident when his legs were crushed by a frightened horse, to the loss of his beloved wife and his near-death in a currach tossed into the sea—all this and more makes up the many-wefted tapestry that reveals the complex man.

In the novels Captive Heart and Fire & Silk,  Owen needs a way to travel. Therefore I had to research the kind of “chariot”-like devices that could have been used in the fifth century AD.

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First, I discovered that wheeled invalid carts have been around since the days of the ancient Greeks. This photo (L) of a sculpture shows a man possibly sitting in a wheeled conveyance. The photo below of the wooden wheeled chair is much later than my stories, but the construction is not so far from what could have been possible at the time. The most likely way Owen could get around in his own  home would be similar to a small ox-cart. He turns the wheels by means of his massive arms, whose muscles have developed preternaturally from the strain of pushing himself from place to place.wheelchair 243

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Just as important as making his way through his own home, Owen must travel long distances to set up a new domain in the northern expanses of Ireland. After all, it is this man who gave his name to Ireland’s Inis-Owen and Tyrone (Tyr, or Land, of Owen). Luckily, his own nephew Michael MacCool is a gifted craftsman who has built a fleet of currachs and a gracefully-prowed longship.

Therefore I, in the guise of Michael, had to construct a chariot.

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The first question one might ask is whether the ancient Celts even used chariots. The scholars agree that they did. In the Bronze-Age epic the Bo Tain Culaigne, war chariots are noted constantly. Reconstructionists have given us ideas of what those chariots must have looked like: double yoked, with a passenger “basket” made from pliable branches; spoked wheels; a kind of floating suspension so that the chariots could travel safely over the rugged landscape.

The Irish Gaelic word for “chariot” is carpat, itself  a cognate of the Latin word carpentum, their word for “chariot.” The Gaelic word no doubt entered the language through the Romans, who did not much venture into ancient Ireland—or even Scotland—but who were past masters at the art of building and using chariots.

In Captive Heart, the narrator Caylith sees the finished chariot that Michael has just built:sketch #2 275

Framed by strong oak, fashioned in the center with latticed wicker and strengthened in strategic places with forged steel, the chariot was about six feet wide, including the wheels, and it stood at least that high. From the center, like a tongue, there jutted a long, flexible pole attached to an axle. I knew the pole would be attached on each side to two horses, for it ended in a metal yoke.

The wheels were six spoked, the rims covered in wrought iron for added strength. I saw that the hubs were also metal. 

I turned to Michael. “The wheels—so small—”

“Aye lass, this is me own invention. The bigger the wheel, the weaker the wheel. An’ the bigger it is, the heavier it is. So these are only about a foot or so high, an’ spoked for added lightness. The metal hubs give it strength. What do ye think?”

“Ah, is Owen supposed to sit with his—his legs down, or spread before him?”

carpat 487“Two people sit side by side, Cay, as if they sat on a bench. Ye see here? Their feet are protected by a board, an’ they can sit with support for their back. An when they are tired, the back can be laid flat. They can enter and leave by the rear also.”

I saw that the carriage itself—the “basket” that held the passengers—was very lightweight, almost like the latticework of the clay-and-daub houses or the frames of Michael’s currachs. At the joints, the lattice was interlaced with strong steel rings. I ran my fingers along the latticework while Michael talked. “The best part of all is the way the platform hangs free of the wheels an’ the axle. If it hits a rut, the whole chariot does not jump an’ dislodge the riders. “

Yes, that really was the best part. I could see, from the point of view of an ignorant observer, that this chariot would cause Owen no pain as it jumped and quivered along the rough countryside. In fact, he could ride like a very king. He could hold the reins, or Moc could be the driver.

“Michael, it is—beautiful. I can think of no better word.”

“Go raibh maith agat. It tested me brain, an’ the next one shall be better.”

chariot:suspension 350
Research has shown that the chariots used in Ireland, in order to be driven across the rough terrain, were built with a kind of “floating” or independent suspension, as the reconstrution here shows.

Here is a scene from Fire & Silk (to be re-released), where Owen and his stalwart sons are traveling from their home in Inishowen to the home of his brother in (present-day) Donegal:

A curious procession moved south, beyond Snow Mountain. It bore slightly west, away from the worst of the foothills in the high pastureland. In front rode a quiet redheaded man on a black stallion. He turned his head often to gaze at the woman next to him, one whose long, dark hair lifted like wings around her face. 

He turned in the saddle to glance at his companions. Behind him, there rolled and rattled a vehicle borrowed from the poetry of the filí, bards of the kings. The man in the chariot was large and heavy browed, and he shouted out to a brace of strong horses as he guided the vehicle around a rocky outcropping or a small gully. Beside him sat a shapely little woman, her deeply black hair swept up with a large ivory bodkin, her eyes sometimes on the driver and sometimes gazing ahead.

Behind the chariot, three very large men sat astride horses, shouting and laughing, sometimes singing. And in the rear walked six packhorses. This was the caravan of Owen, King of Inishowen, who traveled to meet his own brother for the first time.

gaelic chariot 600

I hope you will read the Twilight of Magic and the Dawn of  Ireland novels . . . if not for the love stories, then for the evolution of a complex man, the character known as Owen Sweeney MacNeill.

warrior king 500

 

Erin’s fantasy series:

http://amzn.to/2C6SI6m  

Erin’s Historical Romance:

http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY

Erin’s Contemporary historical  MM Romance:

~The Iron Warrior http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh

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Romancing the stones: the Picts

Part I: The Symbols

Which came first–the splendid stone work of the Picts . . .  or the lavish tattoos that history says adorned their bodies, and whose designs are found on stones all over Scotland? (Note from the map that the stones are heavily concentrated in the east, north of the Forth and extending as far as the Orkney and Shetland islands.)

As an introduction to the unusual art of the Picts, let me say that historians and archaeologists long ago fossilized the Pictish stone work into “Classes,” depending on the assumed age of the carvings and on the subject matter. Here is a brief breakdown of those arbitrary categories:

Class I: Rough stones containing only symbols, dating from the 6th to 8th c AD.

 

Class II: Stones usually rectangular in shape, usually showing Christian crosses on one or both sides in addition to other symbols, dating from the 8th and 9th c AD

Ab 2 330

Class III: A controversial classification  that “throws in” such free-standing markers as gravestones, crosses and boundary markers; none of the class III stones bear symbols.

The first fact to note here is that the classifications all include post-Christian dates, i.e., from around 600 AD, a few generations after St. Patrick went to Ireland and sent his monks throughout Éire and Alba (modern Scotland).

And yet, the designs themselves tell of a people long predating the Christian influence.  There are anywhere from 30 to 50 such designs, with the following designations:

V-rod/with crescent

 

Z-rod/with double disc

Mirror case

Comb design

Horseshoe/arch design

These designs do not take into account the figures of animals, fish, birds, “monsters,” and humans that found their way onto the stones and that are so widely copied today on our bodies and clothing too. I will show these figures in part II of this article next week.

The point I am making here is that the symbols shown above seem to reflect a society and a style far older than the 6th c AD. I tend to agree with those who theorize that these symbols were first painted on walls, made into jewelry, and placed on everything from door lintels to shields–even  on the bodies of the Picts themselves–before they were carved into stones. This would mean that the Picts’ artistic influence was felt long before many scholars theorize. It would also give credence to the Roman chroniclers’ accounts of blue tattoos on the bodies of these warriors whom they apparently feared enough to erect an immense wall to keep them out of Britannia. (See the article “Hadrian’s Wall” in these archives.)

According to a web article at www.orkneyjar.com:

These symbols, it has been suggested, predate the symbol stones and were perhaps based on the tattoos the Pictish tribes used to decorate their bodies.

From body adornments, which may have had symbolic or magical properties, the symbols may have been transferred onto objects such as jewellery, shields and doorposts before finally ending up on the symbol stones.

The article “Pictish stones” in Wikipedia says:

Simple or early forms of the symbols are carved on the walls of coastal caves at East Wemyss, Fife and Covesea, Moray. It is therefore thought likely that they were represented in other more perishable forms that have not survived in the archaeological record, perhaps including clothing and tattoos.

I have absolutely no doubt that Pictish inscriptions were painted in caves, and that they will be found by archaeologists, along with creature symbols to rival those of the neanderthal-age cave paintings in France.

The stone pictured on the right is called the Dunnichen Stone, a Class I stone as you can see from the presence of symbols only, and the lack of any Christian cross design. Some have said that the “comb and mirror” designations reflect the matrilineal society of the Picts and perhaps denote the property, grave or other territory of a locally powerful female figure. The top figure on the stone is  thought to be a  flower, a relatively rare symbol in Pictish stone work.

The stone was found in a farmer’s field, plowed up to expose its sandstone face. It has since been moved to nearby Dunnichen in Scotland. The stone measures a little over four and a half feet tall, two feet wide and one foot thick.

My writer’s imagination immediately seized on this spectacular stone, and I have given it the name “The Queen’s Stone.” It  has found a place in my writing, and a lovely woman has already been created (by artist/author Rebecca Poole) to befit the stone. I show the link after this article.

Here is another stone found near Aberlemno in Angus (roughly 20 miles NE of Dundee, Scotland) that is famously called the Serpent Stone. Archaeologists call it Aberlemno I, referring to its “class I status” as I describe above. As much as the first stone reminds me of a powerful woman, this one speaks of a strong male figure, perhaps a king. It is five feet tall, and the back of the stone is incised by “cup marks,” perhaps carved in a distant prehistoric time. The “feminine” symbols of mirror and comb are located near the bottom, and the center, like the Dunnichen Stone, is dominated by the Z-rod and disk symbols. The dominant position of the serpent  and the overall phallic shape are, to me, remarkably a male, just as as the flower and overall shape of the Dunnichen Stone conjure up a female image.

This one is a roadside stone, marred somewhat by plow marks, located in a dry stone wall.  It is one of the few that have been left in their original location; most have been moved to churchyards and museums.

My  identification of “male” and “female” symbols and stones are strictly my own, based on a fertile imagination and a lifelong love of stones.

 

 

 

 

As promised, here’s an image and link to my short story inspired by (ta-DAH) that Dunnichen stone.

QueensStonesRP=pizap.com14891797169801

QUEEN’S STONES: A short romance set in ancient Scotland 

How can a cheeky stranger know the ancient secret of the stones? And even if he could ever guess…how could he possibly discover her own?

~

MF historical fantasy romance 99c

Prequel to MM story ON FALCON WINGS

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2mtvf90  

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2mbamgj  

http://www.seatoskybooks.com/erin-oquinn/5744-queens-stones/?page=2 (pdf or epub)

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/709851 (pdf)

Original art of woman by Dreams2media Rebecca Poole

 

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Hadrian’s Wall: Roman vs. Scot? Or not?

The Wall of Hadrian is strung like a stone necklace across the thin neck of England, just south of Scotland. From a little distance, I can almost imagine myself in China gazing at the Great Wall, seeing the famous Roman construction follow the lines of the rolling hills from horizon to horizon.

The wall was built under orders from the emperor Hadrian. It runs about 73 miles east to west, made of local limestone and, where stone could not be quarried, of turf and rubble. According to Wikipedia, “It is a common misconception that Hadrian’s wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland. This is not the case; Hadrian’s wall lies entirely within England,” south of the Scottish border by about half a mile in the west at Carlisle, and by about 68 miles in the east at Wallsend.

As we say in America–close enough for government work!

Massive as the undertaking was, the wall took just six years to build. Started in 122 AD and completed in 128 AD, it seems to have been constructed by three sets of Roman legions, laboring in fair weather or foul, seemingly as consumed with the task as they were with the construction of their hugely expansive roads. The Romans were dedicated, to say the least. Perhaps the whip was set to their back. Or perhaps the promise of rewards back in Rome kept their backs bowed to the task.

The question I have is this: why was this wall built? Historians have speculated on the various purposes of the Wall of Hadrian, and they have settled on four possible reasons:

To keep the Scoti and other Caledoni, the northern tribes, from invading Britannia. From fragments found by archaeologists, we know that part of Hadrian’s purpose was “to keep intact the empire.” The emperor’s biographer states that Hadrian’s policy was “defense before expansion.”

 

But from records of the time, it seems clear that these tribes were hardly a threat to the well-armed and  heavily-fortified Romans. Crude spears against metal swords, tribes on foot against mounted soldiers, swarming masses on the ground against well-trained men in fortified walltowers, or at least on the high ground–it  seems likely that the wall was overkill if it was meant to drive out the barbarians.  Historians theorize that all these reasons argue against the wall being purely defensive.

wall cutaway 240

To mark the extent of the Roman empire in the north. Building limites, or markers, was common for the Romans. But a 73-mile marker (the singular Latin form is lime) would seem to be somewhat overkill–I use that word again–simply to mark the Romans’ world from that of the barbarians.

To give the Romans a large degree of control in exacting customs and other taxes from those traveling to and from the wall. Here is an argument that seems a little silly to me, but of course I am no historian. How many wayfarers could there have been then, traveling to and from the relatively wild area of the far north of Britannia? And how wealthy were those who sought to travel across the wall? If the Romans wanted to enrich the empire by means of customs, it would have been more logical to place customs checkpoints at the harbors, such as Deva Victrix, where several thousands of people traveled by land and sea.

To serve as a tangible reminder of the might of Rome and, above all, the power of its grand emperor.  In fact, the emperor himself once made the long journey to northern Britannia to watch the progress of his wall. If the area was so dangerous, it seems unlikely that he would have been idly watching from his litter as the legionnaires bent to the task. The Wikipedia article notes that “Once its construction was finished, it is thought to have been covered in plaster and then white-washed, its shining surface able to reflect the sunlight and be visible for miles around.” In those days, whitewash was a combination of lime and chalk used to protect outdoor surfaces from the ravages of the weather. So it seems reasonable that yes, the imposing wall shone in the sun’s rays and bedazzled travelers by its size and its radiance too.

So it seems that the wall served multiple purposes: to keep out unwanted, possibly dangerous foreigners; to mark the territory of the Romans; to serve as a customs-gathering means of fattening the pocket of Rome; and to serve as a reminder of the glory of Rome and her emperor Hadrian.

hadrians 240I am fascinated by the Wall of Hadrian, and I have placed two of my characters in, on, or around that wall. Gristle, known as Marcus when he was a soldier, was stationed in the nearby hills of the Lake District in Warrior, Ride Hard. He and his soldiers were pitted against the roaming Pictish tribes. In the sequel titled Warrior, Stand Tall, I introduce a character named Dub or Dubthach who fought at the wall and ventured beyond to marry a Caledonian maiden.

The country itself is magnificent, as you can tell by looking at the various photos here. As I was browsing the images, seeing so many “tourist photos,” it came as rather a shock to see a few taken during the winter, where Gristle sardonically remarks that he “froze his buttocks” on the unyielding walls. It is also remarkable how the Romans built this huge enterprise by following the lay of the land. But of course, how else could they have done it?

Read more about the ancient world of Britannia, Hibernia, Wales, and Alba (Scotland) in the  novels of Erin O’Quinn:

The Twilight of Magic (fantasy for all ages): http://amzn.to/2C6SI6m 
The Dawn of Ireland (M/F fantasy romance): http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY
The Iron Warrior trilogy (M/M romance-adventure): http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh
Stag Heart (M/M fantasy romance-adventure):

fierce 200QRI:  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, explicit excerpt)

~and~

Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)

Slán until next time…Erin O’Quinn

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Who were the Picts? And what about those tattoos?

While reading about those mysterious people called “Picts,” I found out a few interesting bits that I’d like to share with my readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

True or false? The Picts were really Caledonians, the people who later became Scoti to the Romans, and finally “Scots.” Answer:  PROBABLY FALSE.

True or false? The Picts bore blue tattoos on their bodies, virtually from head to toe. Answer: MAYBE.

I realize that I’m hedging my bets here. But almost 2,000 years after the Romans wrote about those people with picti, or pictures on their body, who’s to know for sure where they came from and what those blue marks really were?

Let me begin with the first “myth”–that the Picts were really just an offshoot of the Caledoni, the tribes that the Romans found when they invaded present-day Scotland at the dawn of the first century AD.

If the evolution of language is a way to trace the ancestry of a people, then perhaps it’s only a myth that our present day Scotsmen can trace their lineage to the Picts. Even though the Roman chroniclers were careful to distinguish among the people they conquered–and even those they did not–it seems that the Picts were one group of people, a distinct race, among others that the Romans found when they invaded the north of the great island of Britannia.

There is one school of thought that traces the Picts back to Iberia, the Roman’s name for modern Spain. Others think that the Picts originated in the Orkney and even the Shetland islands, two island groups that lie well north of the Scottish mainland. Could the original immigrants have come from Norway–or even Iceland and beyond–and settled in those islands, centuries before the Norsemen penetrated as far as Britannia itself?

Most scholars think that the Picts were a large distinct tribe that inhabited most of present-day Scotland until about the fifth century AD. Then they began to be subsumed with the people the Romans named the Scoti, a nation of people that emigrated from the region called “Dál Riada,” encompassing the modern day Inner Hebrides and a portion of Northern Ireland, modern Co. Antrim. On the satellite image pictured here, Dál Riada is in the shaded oval. Thus the Irish Gaels merged with the Picti to form a nation called Scoti, or Scots. The term “Caledonian” seems to be almost generic, a term the Romans used to refer to anyone beyond the great walls they erected to keep the savages from penetrating the rest of Britannia.

The question that no scholars have been able to answer is this: how could such a large number of people, spread throughout thousands of miles, have virtually disappeared in a few generations? It’s possible that instead of disappearing, the hardy Picti merely intermarried with the Scoti, to form the rugged, handsome people we now call Scots.

Mind you, this is a guess. No one knows for sure. One of the greatest mysteries of the Picts is their language. Not a trace of their language remains except in stone markings called “ogham,” a language that has been traced to the so-called P-Celtic tongue. Not a trace of their widespread early culture remains except in the form of standing stones with distinctive artwork, in unearthed burrows, and in the traces of stone houses, among other remnants.

Likewise, no one really knows the truth about the famous Pictish “tattoos.”

I’m almost reluctant to use the word “tattoo,” originating as it does from Tahiti/Samoa as late as the 17th century. In fact, in a short story I wrote about a blue-marked Pict, I used the term “pricked-in” to refer to the falcon embedded on his chest, and below you’ll see why I settled on that term.

The very word “pict” derives from the term used by  a Roman chronicler who thought that these people were covered with blue “pictures.” The blueness of the markings has been thought for centuries to be derived from a plant called “woad,” a member of the mustard family, whose ground roots render a distinctive blue dye.

Until recently, it was assumed that the woad plant was inserted under the skin after elaborate markings were picked, or pricked-in, with some kind of slender needle. But experiments show that first of all, the woad dye is short-lived, lasting only a week or two before it becomes so faded that it almost disappears. Second, anyone injected with woad paste or powder becomes very ill. It’s a substance that humans can hardly tolerate.

So how did the Picts make their tattoos?

Well, it’s entirely possible that the markings were not picked into their skin at all, but were painted–much the same as the Amerind “war paint.” I like to think that those who saw the distinctive blue swirls and designs were on the wrong side of the Picts’ better nature, and those marks were the sign of outright hostility–war paint, if you will.

Another plausible theory is that the blue paste worked under their skin was woad mixed with an iron-based pigment that would ensure that the marks remained, and that did not sicken the wearer.

I like to think that these ancient warriors, with a  culture based on matrilineal descent, were naturally drawn to the  intricate curved and geometric designs that we think of to this day as “Celtic” or “Pictish.”

Remembering that the Picts lived in a matriarchal society, ask yourself:  Who but a woman would have thought first of adorning herself with lovely patterns that highlight the muscles and natural curves of the body? You read it here first, my friends: Pictish tattoos were invented by a woman. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  😉

The early novels of Erin O’Quinn are centered largely in the northern portion of ancient Ireland—Derry, Inishowen, Tyrconnell (Donegal), Coleraine. From there, the characters have journeyed to sacred Armagh and Tara, south  to Wales, across Britannia to Deva Victrix, to Cambria, north to the great wall of Hadrian and beyond.

Join the growing number of readers who are beginning to learn about the wild-ass people of this exciting time on the cusp of written history through a series of unique novels.

~The Dawn of Ireland
http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY

 

~The Iron Warrior
http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh

Erin O’Quinn’s Man in Romance blog:  http://romancemanlove.wordpress.com/

This short story explores, in part, the history of homoerotica in the 8th C AD. Why did Ireland stand apart in its “modern” attitude about gay love?

FalconZon

#gay #fantasy #historical #erotic #romance
Kindle US: http://amzn.to/1WQ59IQ
Kindle UK: http://goo.gl/vxtk4T

I do everything backwards, I think. Here’s the prequel to the book above…all about the mother of the Pict Tawn. Just published! (March 2017) It’s much more mainstream, yet it has a certain sensual charm…

QUEEN’S STONES

#mf #fantasy #historical #romancequeen secret coll=pizap.com14893794293486

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2mtvf90
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2mbamgj
http://www.seatoskybooks.com/erin-oquinn/5744-queens-stones/?page=2
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/709851 (pdf)

Original art of woman by dreams2media Rebecca Poole

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Ireland: A Landscape Built in Dreams

The Lagan, near Belfast after a rain

All my early books about Ireland were written looking from my window at the rain-parched landscape of central Texas. If ever I needed an inner eye, an active imagination, it was when Caylith and her immigrants first walked on the soil of Éire–when they embarked from their little skin-clad currachs from the bay where today stands the city of Belfast at the juncture of the Irish Sea and the lovely Lagan River.      

From there, I needed to envision the lush rolling hills, the green bogland, the cattle-dotted land between the coast and the huge Lough Neagh, Ireland’s largest lake. And the home of Father Patrick, the famous hill of Emain Macha, had to be not just distinctive but awe-inspiring–the place where the faith of a whole nation was born through the dedication of a man and his ever-widening ministry.

A panoramic view of the Hill of Macha, showing a modern roundhouse on the top
The Foyle not far from Derry

On the hill of Macha I set a large clay-and-wattle roundhouse and a perpetual bonfire, a reminder by Patrick to the people of Christ’s immortality. Even though that fire was my own creation, still it seems a logical fixture in the place where the later saint started his ministry.

Once Caylith and the pilgrims made their inland trek north to Derry, the settlement they built along the River Foyle, she naturally sought out the swift river and the large rocks imbedded along the bank and in the water itself. There she could fish for salmon and trout as she lay on a large rock, daydreaming as the cold, flashing currents swirled and leapt their way to the lake beyond, and from there to the northern sea.

The mighty Foyle, swiftest river in Éire

Many of my visions were mental ones. Writing that first romance, Storm Maker, I did not know how to navigate the web, how to instantly call forth the photos I show today. I’m surprised now, in retrospect, how close my imagination came to reality. And in some locales, I’m shamed at the disparity between the site and my inner perspective of the place.

One view of Trawbreaga Bay, Inishowen

Never mind.  The sites are vivid to me each time I re-read the passages where, for instance, in The Wakening Fire Caylith and Liam stopped on their way to Limavady and conceived their first-born under a red-berried holly. Or the winding bay, the lovely Trawbreaga Bay in Inishowen, where the two of them washed off the stench of their captured enemy in Storm Maker; and where later, in Fire & Silk, a future king established his first domain.

As the books continued and my ability on the computer improved, I was able to see actual photos of the treacherous Tory Island that figured so prominently in Captive Heart, the pyramidal Mt. Errigal with its rose-quartz color at sunset, the fingers of lightning that plague the north coast of modern Donegal, and much more, in Fire & Silk.

A rocky strand on Trawbreaga Bay

And yet, even with photos in front of me, I still needed to walk the land and sift the soil between my fingers. I needed to see the broken-knife shapes of the rocks on Tory and imagine them as resurrected warriors. I needed to see through the eyes of a future king the hill fort overlooking the Swilly River, and much more.

And so, even though these photos capture part of the spirit of my books, I can honestly say that my imaginary landscape is lovely and compelling too.

Mt. Errigal seems to reflect its color back to the clouds.

I’ll leave this flight of fancy with my imaginary waterfall on Mt. Errigal, as Mariana saw it:

She stood under a tall, rough escarpment, one that lay at an angle that would shield this low ground from the force of the prevailing wind. And then her ear was caught by a growl so continual and insistent that it took her several seconds to understand that a waterfall flowed from the bluff, hidden by a line of nearby tall pines. Enthralled, she walked toward the sound.

Emerging from the trees, she stood openmouthed. She had never seen a waterfall before. This one arched from the highest part of the bluff, catching the sunlight in its crystal sprays, tumbling and singing down the side of Errigal like a jeweled ornament. She soon understood the roar as a series of sounds—the rush of the water itself, the pounding of waves on rock, the echo it made as it tumbled and fell from Errigal’s thighs. Yes, she agreed with Flann. Errigal was a woman. She was a wanton, a beguiler, a siren, and a summoner of men. For the first time, she began to form an idea of Flann’s attraction to this place. 

As far as Flann goes,

He was walking into [a] recurrent dream. He wanted Mariana to see his mountain, his waterfall, through his eyes. Would the myriad diamonds of the cascades reflect back in her eyes? Or would the flashing brilliance of her eyes jump and swirl in his waterfall? He ached to find out.

Please come with me to ancient Éire and experience the landscape for yourself–both the real one and the one conjured in my dreams.

“Baylor’s Teeth” on Tory Island

The Dawn of Ireland Trilogy http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY
Storm Maker
The Wakening Fire
Captive Heart
Fire & Silk… To be re-released

The Iron Warrior trilogy
http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh
Warrior, Ride Hard
Warrior, Stsnd Tall…
Warrior, Come Again

Stag Heart (sequel to Warrior, Come Again), set on the sacred Hill of Tara, site of mischief and mayhem:

  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, #explicit #excerpt)

~and~

Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN  

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O  

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)

 

 

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A Bawdy Irish Tale: Battle of the Beauties

This blogsite has already re-told a bawdy tale about Maeve (Medb), the goddess known for her beauty and her insatiable sexual appetite. Here is another excerpt, this one from my first Dawn of Ireland romance Storm Maker, wherein not just Maeve but two other renowned goddesses enter the story–Brigid and Macha.

It so happens that Brigid is also the name of my heroine Caylith’s best friend, a fetching blonde; and Caylith secretly sees herself as the redhead Macha. One night, everyone is enjoying wineskins full of different heady brews, and one of the men, Ryan Murphy, begins to tell a ribald tale. Of course, both Brigid and Caylith listen closely while pretending to ignore the swilling, drunken men.

The story that follows is entirely my invention, but I can well imagine a story or two just like it in the mouths of the ancient filí, the bards, who recounted the boisterous legends of old and even made some up as they went along–just as I did!

THE BATTLE OF THE BEAUTIES

That night after supper, Ryan stood and lifted his cup to the crowd. “Have none of ye heard the story,” he cried, “of the battle of the beauties?” Laughing and red of face, Michael translated his cousin’s words almost as he spoke.

“This was a bit of time ago, ye understand, back when all of Ulster belonged to Ard Rí Murphy, High King over all these lands…” 

There were shouts of derision, for everyone knew that Murphy was never more than a cattle baron, a tribal chieftain. Yet in Ryan’s eyes he had attained the highest rank possible.

“…An’ the two loveliest women of the day, Bridget and Medb, sought to be crowned the most beautiful woman in Éire. Now King Murphy, at that time, was married to another beauty, the celebrated, red-haired Macha. An’ the two women, knowing of Macha’s renowned good looks, proclaimed that none less than King Murphy himself would declare the winner. For they knew that whichever one of them would win, Macha herself would lose.

“So the two women stood on a dais in front of the king, who had himself blindfolded, so sure was he of his ability to choose the right woman. Before he was to decide, his wife Macha told him tenderly, ‘Dearest one, let the contest be fair to all. Let us use a woman from your court to stand as a third contestant. I meself will choose her.’ 

“Now King Murphy was a great king, but in comparison to women’s brains, some say he was not so great as the legends would have ye believe. But others say he was wise beyond all other men. He agreed right away, an’ ye’ll decide which opinion to believe.

“Soon not two but three women stood on the dais in front of the blindfolded king. He stepped up to the first beauty and stroked her long hair. This was the lovely Bridget, she of the golden locks, whose beauty had caused the great Finn himself to swoon in desire, whose braids had wrapped around his groin as he slept. He tried to stand as close to her hair as he could, feeling the tendrils tighten about him. He stood there long enough to make a decision.

“Then he stepped to the next woman, the famous beauty, Medb, and he proceeded to kiss her full on the mouth. Now Medb was known for her unbounded appetites, and she seized his mouth and almost choked the poor man with her long, searching tongue. It took the king a few long moments to decide.”

By now, the men were cheering and stamping their feet on the wooden floor. I caught Brigid’s eye, and both of us headed for a far part of the room to try to ignore the end of the tale.

“And now he stood before the third woman. He reached out both hands and found her swelling breasts, rising out of her gown like ripe melons. He felt for a moment, uncertain.

“Now be it known that King Murphy loved his wife Macha beyond all others, and he accordingly loved every inch of her body. So he knew that she had a small beauty mole just—there, on the side of her right nipple. He bent forward and seized her nipple in his mouth and began to suckle, letting his tongue feel for a telltale mole.

“Sure enough, he found it right away, but he did not reveal his little deception, for then he seized the other as well. After another little while he backed away from the dais and raised both hands to the assembled court.

“‘Let it be proclaimed,’ he said, ‘that I have found the fairest woman in Éire. It is she whose breasts I have touched today.’

“And thus was Macha rewarded for a having a husband both virile and wise.”

Ryan’s story was met with such laughter and swigging from wineskins that I thought the din would never end. Brigid said, “This is typical, Caylith, of the behavior of great louts in a swine pen.”

I agreed, red faced. Deep down, where none would ever know it, I saw myself as Macha. I had felt Liam’s hands and mouth as the story was unfolding, and I blushed at my own little secret.

Caylith, Brigid, Murphy and many more engaging characters fill the pages of Erin O’Quinn’s novels. You will find them here:

Storm Maker:  http://amzn.to/O218y7
The Wakening Fire : http://amzn.to/N1Gc6C
Captive Heart:  http://amzn.to/Qm8b1X
Fire & Silk:  http://amzn.to/P6jZtn
Warrior, Ride Hard:  http://www.bookstrand.com/warrior-ride-hard